'Star Trek': Back To The Future, By Kurt Loder

J.J. Abrams beams up a faded franchise.

I'm not a Trekker myself, but I suspect that the vast, excitable legion of those who are will be tickled by J.J. Abrams' genial reboot of their cherished franchise, and that their enthusiasm, expressed in repeat viewings, will enable the film to live long and prosper at the box office. Several of the deathless [url id=""]"Star Trek"[/url] phrases are still in position here ("Beam me up!" "Set phasers to stun!"), along with winking nods to the original series' endearingly cheesy effects (the whirly "transporter beam" looks as silly as ever). And the writers, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who previously collaborated with Abrams on "Mission: Impossible III"), have come up with a head-achingly clever plot device that effectively vaporizes nearly 40 years of earlier "Trek" lore (six TV series and 10 previous movies), and takes the never-ending story back to square one, where it can begin spawning a fresh generation of sequels.

Non-devotees, however, may find the movie underwhelming. Considered strictly as a sci-fi action picture, it's a bit rocky in the action department. One key face-off is little more than a fistfight, and some of the shaky-cam space mayhem is incoherent. The digital effects are nothing you haven't seen before, either -- even the two ferocious alien beasties who figure in the film's most exciting sequence, set on a snow-blown ice planet, heavily suggest the Wargs and Krakens of other fantasy blockbusters. (More oddly, the Romulan spaceship that provides most of the extraterrestrial menace resembles a large black artichoke.)

Will fans care about any of this? Why should they? The heart of the "Star Trek" saga has always been the interaction among its affectionately individualized core characters, and there's plenty of that here (in one case, of a completely unexpected nature). The picture is set in the 23rd Century, before the beginning of the original TV series. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rowdy cadet at the Starfleet Academy, where he falls in with the young physicist Sulu (John Cho), communications specialist Uhura (who actually has a first name, we learn), navigator Chekov (his Russian accent thickly deployed by Russian-born Anton Yelchin) and a proto-grumpy Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban). The rule-flouting Kirk also comes into conflict with a stiff-necked, by-the-book officer, the half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto). (A thought here: Wouldn't someone who hails from a planet called Vulcan be a Vulcanian? Would someone from Mars be called a Mars? My alien grammar isn't what it once was.)

When a violent space encounter puts Spock in charge of the fabled Starship Enterprise, he quickly starts butting heads with Kirk, severely testing his Vulcan commitment to pure reason over the human emotions that also roil his soul. This is pretty funny (at one point, Spock peevishly orders Kirk to stop sitting in the captain's command chair), and Quinto is especially resourceful at portraying his character's divided nature and prissy rectitude. Pine plays Kirk a little broadly, I thought (especially in an early drunk scene back on Earth), but his bland handsomeness amusingly recalls the stolid demeanor of William Shatner, the ineffable original. And while Eric Bana, as the Romulan outlaw Nero, is a standard-issue snarling villain (with a face full of Mike Tyson-like tattoos), Simon Pegg, who shows up rather late in the picture as the lovable Scotty, brings a distinctive comic fizz to the proceedings. ("Are you from the future?" he asks a surprise visitor hungrily. "Do they still have sandwiches there?")

The movie has an easy-going, unlabored charm. It may not be a great space epic, but it doesn't play its source material for jokes. And unlike the dreadful latter-day "Star Wars" pictures, this one honors the unflagging devotion of millions of fans. Which for them may be great enough.

("Star Trek" is a Paramount Pictures presentation. Paramount and MTV are both subsidiaries of Viacom.)

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